Californians transfer authority in Kosovo to 'Lone Star' division

CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo — Inside a giant "clam shell" bubble dome, Soldiers from the 36th Infantry Division, Texas National Guard, in their division's first deployment to Europe since World War II, took command of Kosovo Force Multi-National Brigade (East) Jan. 18 in a transfer of authority ceremony here.

Outgoing MNB(E) Commander Army Brig. Gen. John Harrel, 40th Infantry Division, California National Guard, handed authority to incoming Commander Army Brig. Gen. Darren Owens of Task Force Falcon, 36th Infantry Division.

"You were active in promoting my policy of support to UNMIK (UN Mission in Kosovo) and the provisional institutions of self-government, thus contributing to back up my action aimed to show that, here in Kosovo, ‘together we can' make the difference," said Italian Army Lt. Gen. Giuseppe Valotto, Kosovo Force commander.

"Now it is up to ... General Owens to take over the command and to lead the brigade in its mission to maintain a safe and secure environment for all the people of Kosovo," Valotto said.

Harrel stepped up to the podium next. He talked about missions and goals his unit accomplished during their time in MNB(E), and he advised the Kosovars to keep looking forward to their future status talks, scheduled to begin this year.

"Today marks the official end of this historic mission for the ‘Peacemakers' of the 40th Infantry Division," Harrel said. "During our time here we have witnessed amazing progress. The Kosovo Police Service has assumed responsibility for routine police functions throughout the Gjilan and Ferizaj regions."

Following a comprehensive review of standards, Mr. Kai Eide recommended to the UN Security Council that status talks begin ... and as we stand here today, final preparations are being made for that process to get underway," Harrel continued. "Leaders at every level must do their part to guide the process and to resist participation in unhelpful activities."

Troops from the "Lone Star" Division watched as Owens and Army Command Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Boyer, 36th Infantry Division, uncased the division colors on European soil for the first time since the "Fight'n 36th" took part in the invasion of Italy during World War II in 1943.

"This change of command ceremony is also the right opportunity for me to officially welcome the Soldiers of the 36th Infantry Division ‘the Lone Star' Division," Valotto said.

"As Texans, you will see that we are a friendly people," Owens said. "But behind that friendly smile, you will find that Texans are a tough people. The good folks here will find that we are good neighbors. The bad folks will find that we will be hard and relentless in the pursuit of peace, justice and the rule of law. We are here on a noble mission: to help make Kosovo a peaceful and safe place.

"In our ranks stand fellow National Guardsmen, Reservists and Regular Army Soldiers from 29 states and territories," Owens said. "We have the same brigade-sized force as the 40th Division. Our Soldiers patrol on foot, to get to know the local folks. We will continue working with the KPS and the civil authorities in Kosovo.

"I promise you this," Owens said emphatically as he closed his speech, "we will not take sides. We will support the political process to determine the future status of Kosovo. We will do our part, working hand in hand with the police and civil authorities to make this a place where decent folks can live without fear. So now is the time and now is the hour for all of us to re-dedicate ourselves to the hard work of peace, and let no one stand in the way."

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